Frank Patton explains his ideas for the Great Lakes Basin Railroad

Frank Patton explains his ideas for the Great Lakes Basin Railroad last year. The company he leads, Great Lakes Basin Transportation, submitted an application to build and operate the railroad to the federal government Monday.

Great Lakes Basin Transportation filed its application to build and operate a 261-mile freight railroad Monday, a day company founder Frank Patton called "historic" in his years-long quest to build a rail bypass around Chicago.

"Our application explains the need for this vital project to the (Surface Transportation Board) and the public," Patton said in announcing the application's filing. "The GLBR is the largest single freight railroad project proposed for the Chicago region in over a century."

The 77-page document was filed with the U.S. Department of Transportation's Surface Transportation Board to meet a deadline the agency had set earlier this year.

Details of the project, including GLBT's favored route from the LaPorte area around Chicago to southeast Wisconsin, are the same as in previous filings, Patton said.

The railroad would have 244 miles of mainline track and 17 miles of branch lines, including one connecting with the Chicago South Shore & South Bend Railroad at Kingsbury. It would have 26 connections with other railroads along the route, including two in Lake County and six in Porter and LaPorte counties.

Construction would take three years to complete, with parts of the line in operation after two years, according to the company.

The full project would cost an estimated $2.8 billion, according to the application, though addition of a contingency fund to cover unexpected expenses would increase that.

An income statement projecting the railroad's financial performance in its first five years suggests profitability would come in its third year, when estimated revenue of nearly $698 million would yield a profit of about $158 million.

So far, 24 stockholders have "contributed funds, services or both during the project's startup phase," GLBT stated in its application.

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A list of 10 primary shareholders is redacted in the publicly available application, and the company filed an order of protection with the STB requesting those names be kept private, "ensuring that proprietary and commercially sensitive information in the List of Stockholders and in other documents will be protected from unnecessary public disclosure and will be used only in connection with this proceeding and not for any other business or commercial use."

The company said its financial backers will exclude "other rail carriers, with the objective of being entirely independent of its major railroad connections." Further, "Great Lakes Basin, nor any of its stockholders, is not affiliated in any way with any industry that may be served by the proposed rail line."

'More questions than answers'

Planning for the Great Lakes Basin Railroad intensified in 2016 with public meetings along its route, attended locally by hundreds of Lake, Porter and LaPorte county residents and public officials.

Many opposed it because of the impact the railroad would have on the rural communities through which it would pass. Others questioned its rationale and long-term viability.

Porter County Commissioner Laura Blaney said the plan still appears murky after submission of the application.

"There are more questions than answers," Blaney said, "and we are yet to see a business plan or any concrete support from the big six railroads, or anyone he would need to make the road happen privately."

Patton, ever optimistic, is confident of the project's future.

"I felt on day one we were going to build it, and I still feel that way," he said.


Assistant Deputy Editor

Andrew covers transportation, real estate, casinos and other topics for The Times business section. A Crown Point native, he joined The Times in 2014, and has more than 15 years experience as a reporter and editor at Region newspapers.